We recently had the pleasure of a surprise visit from Wellington-born writer Douglas Parker. His book Spores, Don’t Even Breathe has been gathering some fabulous reviews from readers: as one said, “A cracking good read–easy yet gripping”. It’s always good to see a new author emerge, and when we heard that NaNoWriMo had been a key part of his creative journey to publication we just couldn’t resist an interview. So here for your delight, edification and enjoyment is part one of our interview with Douglas Parker. Enjoy!
You finished your first draft of the novel in 30 days based on the “No plot, no worries” approach and were involved with NaMoWriMo (which Wellington City Libraries is also involved in). Could you elaborate on the process and advantages of writing so quickly?
I had always wanted to write a novel, but I assumed I would have to dedicate myself to it exclusively, and for a long time. A mortgage, full time job, and family commitments prevented that.
Then I happened across the NaNoWriMo book, No Plot, No Problem. With its promise of completing a first draft in 30 days it was too good to ignore. In the book I found a no-nonsense, practical approach that was clearly based on years of experience. Thousands of people had done this already, so why not me?
The thing that attracted me most to the NaNoWriMo approach was its determinedly anti-perfectionist stance. The book has many practical tips about writing, and writing fast. But for me the best piece of advice was “don’t get it right, get it written!” Accepting at the start that whatever I wrote, I knew it needed to be worked on after the 30 days were up.
This had the wonderful effect of freeing me from worrying that my writing might not be ‘good enough’. Whenever my mind wandered in that direction, I could remind myself that all I had to do was be creative and write something. I could decide later if it was any good or not.
The NaNoWriMo challenge was to complete a 50,000 word first draft in 30 days. At the end of the 30 days I had 65,000 words, but I was nowhere near the end of the story. So I’d succeeded on one measure, but failed on the other.
Family and friends were very supportive, but when the 30 days were up, they deserved some attention. So I continued to work at a slower pace and after three months I reached the end of my first draft.
My wife was the first person to read it. She disappeared for a whole day and on returning announced “It’s just like a real book!” I took that as a compliment, I’d been trying to write a real book, and perhaps I’d succeeded.
Could you perhaps go way back and tell us about the creative origins of Spores, Don’t Even Breathe?
My wife grew up in California, a hot and dry climate. She loves New Zealand, but to her it seems cold and damp. She often comments on the mildew, and I will often reply with comments like “watch out for the spores!” So when I was looking for a topic, spores were one of the first things that came to mind.
We had also recently been through the bird flu ‘epidemic’. This was accompanied by a lot of misinformation in the news media and a good dose of outright fear-mongering from them, politicians and businesses with products to sell.
If you want to manipulate people, fear is a powerful tool. What could be scarier than invisible spores, floating in the air. To catch them, all you have to do is breathe.
As for my characters, I adopted the NaNoWriMo approach and largely left them up to chance. I only made broad decisions about them before I started to write them in. My main goal was to make the story interesting. A novel is entertainment more than anything else.
I decided on small town U.S.A. for a setting and the Chief of Police for my main character. When folks start dyin’ of them spores, well the Chief of Police has got to be involved. I made the chief a woman, simply because I thought that would be more interesting than yet another story about men running around and saving the world.
The other characters came about the same way, always just trying to keep the mix interesting.
Did you have internal conversations with your characters when you were in the writing phase? If not, what process do you use to generate dialogue?
I found the writing process to be surprisingly visual so I found myself watching my characters rather than talking to them. I usually knew where I wanted the story to go, so I’d just sit and imagine them heading off in that direction, then I’d do my best to write down what they’d done.
Sometimes this was easy. Sometimes it was very difficult to find the right words to describe what I’d imagined and lots of frustrating re-writing would result.